Finding God

Loving what’s within

It was a pleasant day in Antalya, Turkey. I was on holiday with my husband and children. The clouds gave us respite from the pinching Mediterranean summer sun. I’d had a sleepless night so all I wanted to do was lie down and doze off on the beach chair. My husband sat next to me, reading a book. My daughters were off somewhere, posing for selfies.

I napped and had dreams. I woke to the sound of women gossiping loudly in a language I couldn’t understand right next to me. In that half-awake state, I stared at the sky and then turned over and stared down at the sand. My happiness was complete.

And yet.

A realisation dawned. The more I loved my family, and the more I drew happiness from their presence in my life, the more I was setting myself up for boundless sorrow later. It doesn’t mean that I stop loving them or stop deriving happiness from their presence; it means I must stop depending on their presence and love in order to be happy.

More than ever, I realised — the only true love is that of the self. The only true companion is the self. The only true partner, lover, parent, guide, child is the self.

Let me put it another way. The self is divine, eternal, infinite, unchangeable, universal, right? The self is God. So the only true love is that of God.

No, no, we’re getting too esoteric. Let’s stay secular. Let’s just say the only true love is that of the self. If we can truly love ourselves, we need nothing else.

Let me just replace a word there. If we can truly love God, we need nothing else.

We need no declarations of love with a ring, no commitments around a sacred fire. We need no bells to clang when we enter a temple, we need no incense to carry our wishes to the heavens. We need have no fear of loss, or pain of separation. We need no stamp paper to prove our bond or a doctor to deliver us from ourselves. We need no ecstasy of ownership, no pride of achievement. We need nothing else, even death won’t do us part.

Lying there in that half-awake state, I realised, my happiness is complete. Not just because I have a beloved family and much abundance in my life. But because I found my true love. It was right here within me all along.

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Finding God

Momentary magic

My blog dashboard informs me it’s been two months since I last wrote. And so I am showing up. But I am also here because a moment of magic happened today and I must — must, must — share it.

It was around half an hour ago. I am home with my family, putting away the ironed clothes in my bedroom. My husband sits in the same room, checking out Facebook on his phone. My elder daughter in the next room is telling her young tuition teacher that our dogs Ronnie and Miyake are the nicest dogs she’s ever known, and it’s probably because they are much loved. In another room, my younger daughter and her best friend are singing songs (very beautifully, I must say). The TV is on in the drawing room; there’s no one there but it is a comforting sound. The dogs have gone for a walk with our housekeeper.

I sit down on the chair next to my husband, the folded clothes in my arms, my eyes wide in wonder. “Look at this moment,” I say in a reverent whisper. “Look around. Hear the sounds. Hear them talking, singing, the TV. This moment, it is just PERFECT.” I take a breath. I have goosebumps. There is nothing more perfect in the world except this very moment. Oh my dear Krishna. Thank you.

The extraordinary magic of an ordinary moment.

Someone asked me my life’s goal a few days ago, and I said, “To be of good use”. And so I am being sent people who need to hear from me. It has been a week of unexpected new connections. It has been fun. I feel like wagging my tail like the pug in the advertisement: “happy to help”.

I can never give back as much as I have got, but I can show up.

Seeking God

Catching myself

I have been caught up in the whirlwind of Maya. Passion for work and overriding attachments to my family have kept me firmly rooted in the rajas guna (ambition, material growth, desires), while a certain sloth has taken over my physical condition — s symptom of the tamas guna (immobility, darkness, pathway to stagnation). I’ve seriously missed a good dose of the sattvic guna (lightness, divinity, spirituality) in my life lately. I am out of balance.

Thankfully I had a wakeup call yesterday, a self-induced one. I had been mulling over various material preoccupations — who said what, why they said it, are they jealous, what do they mean, how dare they, they need to be put in place, and so on. I acted on impulse once, but then the trigger was repeated. Before I reacted the second time, I decided to pray and look inside me a little.

Grace. I was able to check my impulse. I was able to see that I had been getting caught up in the whirlwind of Maya. I was able to see that it was never about ‘me versus them‘ but about ‘me versus God‘. I was getting caught up in my material roles in this life, I was beginning to take them super-seriously. I was under the illusion that I ‘owned’ them — my job, my family, my loves.

But truth is, I don’t. They are all on loan, all gifts of nature, fleeting, temporal, here-one-day-gone-the-next. The more I identify with them, the more I am trapped. (*takes a deep breath, and releases it with a ‘let go’*)

I love this life, this family, this work, these people. And because I love them, I must learn to detach myself from them, else the love will turn into possessiveness and poison.

It is easy to forgive and put behind those you once hated. It is nearly impossible to detach yourself from your most prized loves. One man did it and he was called the Buddha.

Oh well. One can aspire to aspiration.

Seeking God

5 benefits of having kids

A few days ago, I found myself driving the kids back and forth from their aerobics class after I’d come home from work. So there I was, all tired and in the mood to crash on the sofa, forced to play driver and ferry the kids, buy groceries, walk the dogs, and generally be ‘mom’.

In the car, I mused aloud to my younger one: “I wonder if there are any benefits of having children. I mean, humans do it every single day and it’s all about passing on the genes and taking the human race forward and all that, but tell me, really, is there any other benefit of having kids? There’s just work and pain and tension and heartache and expense… I can’t think of a single reason I’d recommend motherhood to anyone.”

My otherwise bright teen had no response. “I dunno, mom. You’ll have to figure this out yourself. I want kids when I grow up, though.”

So I’ve spent some of my spare time (increasingly rare these days) figuring out if there is any reason to recommend motherhood to anyone. I finally had a eureka moment today and thought I’d write it down while on a flight back home from a conference.

1. Having kids keeps you updated on everything that’s trending in the world – from music to fashion to technology. It is through our kids that we stay updated. Now, you’ll say one doesn’t need to go to the drastic extreme of having kids to do that, but I say, any learning is far more effective when you live both the pros and cons of it, day in and day out.

2. Having kids keeps you young. This sounds paradoxical but it isn’t. If I didn’t have kids, I’d avoid a lot of adventurous, spontaneous things in life and would be an old fuddy-duddy sooner. Because of them, I am forced to do new things on a regular basis and that keeps me young at heart.

3. Having kids helps you in your career. Again this sounds contrary to common sense, but hear me out. I work in an industry (online media) that targets young adults. Knowing their behaviour patterns and life choices helps me tremendously in understanding my target audience. I am able to make better informed decisions when it comes to creating my product for them. They also actively give me feedback, which I then act on. So having them around is good for my career.

4. Having kids makes you get up early in the morning. Now, everyone knows the benefits of this, but I’m a lazy person and if I didn’t have kids, I’d be in bed till 10 in the morning. Due to their school schedule, I now rise with the sun and it’s been over a decade that this excellent habit has been forced on me.

5. Having kids keeps you busy and alive. No matter how much I grumble about the back-breaking labour and the chores that are my burden as a mother, the fact is, all this is keeping me occupied and living life to the fullest. There is never a dull moment. It is a crazy, maddening, even exasperating existence but somewhere I think it makes life worth living far more than not having anything to do.

I once read somewhere that having kids does not increase the parents’ happiness quotient (it may even lower it) but people continue having kids because it gives meaning to their lives. And meaning is more important than happiness, it appears. Perhaps this is true.

In any case, I have made peace with my lot today and have thanked God for planning a better existence for me than I would done for myself. They’re hard work but I’m better off with children than without them. So hey, if you want a review on motherhood, here it is:

It works for me.

Finding God

Value-added moment

A scene comes to mind. A face, an unlikely location. You are the protagonist but everything else appears to be a dream. You have another home, another husband, another life. You do not recognise yourself. This cannot be you. Those are not your words, your thoughts. You aren’t like this.

You aren’t like this any more. You changed, and the scene changed too. Or maybe the scene changed and you changed along with it. Who knows what comes first, the chicken or the egg.

Sometimes, looking into the past is like looking into the future or into a parallel universe. It all appears to be a vision, a hallucination brought on by an idle mind. Then your children walk past and there’s the answer in flesh and blood — they are yours, the dream was reality once. However unbelievable it seems, it was reality once. You take heart in knowing you survived. You give thanks in knowing you are in a better place now. You make a tiny wish for the future, and send up a prayer of forgiveness and closure for the past. There is life beyond life.

—–

I was crabby a few days ago, sullen about the fact that I had to cook dinner when I’d rather be writing something. “I wish we had domestic help,” I grumbled to the kids, “I wish I could be doing something of more value than housework.”

“But what you are doing is of value, mom. Change your perspective,” the elder one cheekily said, walking away, leaving me fuming in the kitchen.

In a few moments, I was caught up by the feel of cottage cheese between my fingers, the smell of pepper in the air, the state of quiet that only cooking can bring. What is value, I mused. Is it the alert ping of the phone when a cheque is deposited in my account? Is it the accomplishment of a writing project well done? Is it a work meeting that went fabulously? Or can it be something else entirely?

Can it be the sizzle of the paneer tikka on the pan as well? The hungry, drooling face Ronnie makes as he looks on, standing just outside the kitchen since he’s not allowed in? The daughter happily filling up her plate? The empty dishes in the sink? The sense of family, and of home? The knowledge of shared history and linked destinies? The experience of being a mother, a wife, a creature of warmth, comfort and an infinite reservoir of hugs?

Could there be value there too?

Could there be value in love?

I thought of all the homemakers in the world — my own mother included, whose contribution to my life cannot be calculated in numbers or words. They don’t bring home the money but they contribute something of perhaps greater value to their homes and families. They contribute themselves.

When I’m at the end of my life, the bank account will end with me. The newspaper articles I write will float, forgotten, in cyberspace. The kids will forget these moments, the dogs will move on to doggy heaven and forget all of us. But I will smile, for I will know I lived life the way Life wanted me to, I loved no holds barred, I dared to dream, and I made paneer tikka when my daughter asked me for it.

Big things create value, no doubt. It’s the little things that are invaluable.

Seeking God

My meaty dilemma

This month, I celebrated the 14th anniversary of my turning vegetarian — a decision taken after returning from a pilgrimage. To cut a long story short, it was a voice in my head that said: ““Living out the effects of negative karma is so hard, let me not create any more negative karma knowingly.”

My atheist hubby terms this kind of talk mumbo-jumbo but trust me when I say I was clueless about religion and spirituality 14 years ago, and this voice was completely new to me. In fact, it was only after turning vegetarian that I veered towards spirituality, not the other way around. Following in my footsteps, my younger daughter too turned vegetarian when she was around 11 years old.

Two weeks ago, a mocking voice spoke up in my head just as I was falling asleep: “You say you are a vegetarian. And yet, you cook and serve animal meat every day. Hah.” My eyes flashed open; it suddenly hit me that I was, in fact, making non-veg food every day for either my family or the dogs, with my own hands, despite being a vegetarian myself. A deep dilemma set in, leaving me tossing and turning in bed.

The next day, coincidentally (or not), my colleagues brought up the subject of my turning vegetarian. And, though I usually never make a debate of my choice, I blurted out my previous night’s soul-searching moment, adding self-righteously, “Why should I cook and serve meat? Why should I take on all that negative karma on myself? Let my family cook it for themselves. And let the dogs be vegetarian too if I am to be their primary cook.” My colleague argued with me: “But they are animals, it’s not their choice. It’s yours. So why are you punishing them for it?”

That night was even more difficult than the previous. The morality of my choice confronted me and refused to budge from my vision until it was sorted. I woke up at 5 am and moaned. Hubby asked what was wrong. “I am crabby,” I said, sleepily. “I haven’t found the answer to the non-veg debate.” He coaxed me back to sleep and I drifted off.

Just as the question had come a couple of days earlier, the answer too came in a voice in the sleepy brain: “Learn to live with the consequences of your choices.” This time I woke with clarity. I knew what my path was to be.

I explained it later to my friend P: “Karma is not just about taking action but also about living with its consequences. When I had my first baby who grew to enjoy eggs and chicken, married a man who loved his fish and meat, adopted two large dogs who need a non-vegetarian diet in order to be well nourished, then I cannot wash my hands off my responsibility towards them in the name of some vague morals. I am their source of nutrition; if they eat non-vegetarian food, then I must cook and serve them that. The alternative is to watch them crave for it, or worse, grow weak, and the elder of our dogs is already arthritic. Either way, the karma is mine to live with.”

I went on: “It concerned me that I have the blood of some innocent animals on my hands in order to feed other innocent animals whom I call my own. But that is the nature of life and the law of nature. One dies to feed another. But where I stand, I cannot write off my worldly duties in favour of some other-worldly rewards. If this means I have earned some negative karma knowingly, so be it.”

It felt like I had just taken an Arjuna-esque leap into Kurukshetra, choosing murder willingly so that the order of the universe may be restored. There will be penance, perhaps, due in this life or another. But even the mother lion kills deer for her cubs to eat; even the mother bird snaps off the life of a worm for her little ones to feed on. It is in the DNA of motherhood to willingly take on the sins of mankind in order to nourish it. (Weighty words, big mama! Go get a cup of green tea for yourself.)

There’s only one change now in my self-description; I can no longer call myself a pure vegetarian. And it’s alright, as long as my child, man and dogs are strong and happy.

Finding God

God at home

It doesn’t take much, really.

Doesn’t take much to find happiness or joy or God in everyday life.

Just caught the daughter’s eyes: she’s watching Keeping up with the Kardashians on her laptop on the sofa, and she looks up at me just as I look up from mine. My eyes are full of love, which of course she immediately announces ‘creepy’. We both laugh, and I add creepily that the blue of her blouse matches the blue of the tumbler cap lying next to her. She rolls her eyes and goes back to Kim and Khloe.

And then I recall yesterday night when we took the dogs for a walk. For the first time, Miyake (our five-year-old female golden retriever) sneaked out of the park with Kalu, the black street mutt who lives in our lane (he has been in love with her ever since we moved here). We spotted them leave through the gate and I rushed behind them, scolding her. She stopped guiltily while Kalu ran away further. Admonishing her like a wayward child, I leashed her and brought her back to the park, her eyes downcast in shame. “The girl has become naughty,” hubby and I agreed. “Badmaash.” The kids went ballistic laughing when I told them about the episode.

And then I look back a few nights ago. It was close to midnight and hubby and I were both sleepy. We usually talk a lot in the dark, or staring up at the ceiling. For a change, that night, we talked facing each other, making eye contact even when drowsy. It was delicious. We laughed and teased each other, everyday squabbles dissipating in knowing gazes. “Small pleasures are such big pleasures for you,” hubby joked tenderly the next morning when I told him I had woken up high.

And then just now, when the daughter studying Sociology shows me her textbook and points at a name: Stolypin. “How can anyone remember a name like that?” she says, adding, “Shouldn’t it be Stoly-Polly?” I laugh out loud: “Hahaha, why on earth should it be Stoly-Polly and not Stolypin???” “Duh,” she responds in her typical teen way of ending a statement with a question mark: “Because it rhymes?”

I am laughing even as I type this.

No, it really doesn’t take much to find God.

Seeking God

Lessons in domesticity 1

A significant phase of my life is coming to a close, a phase that has given me the silence and space to look at my priorities, evaluate my goals and focus on my intimate relationships. I am left deeply affected and indelibly changed. As I look back for the meaning in the madness, I find these lessons:

1. Happiness doesn’t come from external circumstances; it comes from within you.

Days of emotional flux took a toll at one point, and I was fed up with all the teary-eyed drama and uncertainty. One evening, I realised with dread that even if my immediate material desire were to come true, I’d still be miserable. In complete humility, I asked God, “Tell me, what was the lesson in all this? What was I meant to learn?”

The answer came the next morning when I was putting detergent in the washing machine: “Happiness doesn’t come from external circumstances; it comes from within you.” And it all fell in place, somehow. No matter what was going on in my external life, happiness was a state of my own mind. If I couldn’t find happiness within, even the biggest gifts from the universe would ring hollow. Life is all about flux and change; I have to find the stillness and peace within — I have to find the balance of being and becoming, as Krishna says.

2. You’re raw at home.

When working outside the home for eight hours a day, you develop shields, reflexes and defence mechanisms over the years. When someone says something nasty, you are able to (with practice) brush it off and not let it affect you emotionally. But at home, you’re vulnerable. These are the people closest to you, people with whom there are no defence mechanisms in place. If they say something mean or hurtful (“I hate you, leave me alone!”, “You cooked today? Can we order out?”, “Short skirts are not a big deal, why are you so paranoid?”, “You don’t understand anything!”, “You’ve ruined my life!”), you’re bruised left, right and centre, and there’s no shield to lessen the impact.

The lesson of course isn’t to run away. The lesson is to understand and value your own vulnerabilities and sore spots. If you can find it in your heart to withstand even this — this most cutting of knives, this most brutal of assaults — even when it has you sobbing or screaming in frustration; if you can find a way to deal even with this; if you can find a mechanism to still give love back in return for anger or hatred, then (as Rudyard Kipling didn’t say), you’ll be a woman, my girl.

I’ve braved barbs at my most rawest of spots, and still come out alive and lovin’. I’m invincible!

3. Be the change.

I’ve been living in a perpetual state of worry, anxiety and fear for several weeks, and if I share the reasons, you’d probably laugh — they’re to do with domestic helps, laundry, dogs and dishes. (But to me, they are just as scary — and real — as the monster in the cupboard to a three-year-old.) A few days ago, however, I noticed I could change my life by changing my attitude. It was the end of a day I’d spent cribbing about my workload and my family had borne the brunt. Suddenly, while watching a few funny videos via friends on Facebook, I decided, “I’m going to be happy. Now.”

And so I got the kids ready and we all went for a movie and had a great time. Now, whenever I feel miserable, I look back to this evening and am inspired by how I was able to change my morose mood simply by deciding to change it. And I feel empowered. My happiness is in my own hands.

(As I write this, I realise there’s a lot more lessons coming, so I’ll just break this post into two.)

Finding God

God at home

She was turning into her own mother. Every day, chore by chore, her life began to resemble her mother’s at the same age.

Brought up in the deserts of Dubai before the dunes of sand were processed into towers of glass, she’d watched her mother slave it out in the home, scrubbing dishes, vacuuming the carpets, doing the beds, baking goodies for the kids, smiling brightly at the weekend soirees with other Indians, taking comfort in a short, stolen cup of tea or a single bowl of rice tucked away from everyone else, sacrificing, always sacrificing, putting everyone else’s needs above her own, despite the back pain, despite the ache that must have lingered in her heart, the loss of her dreams.

As a know-it-all adult, she often listened to her mother say, “I do not regret being a housewife. I like being home and being there for the people in my life. My family was my career and I am proud of my contribution to their lives,” and assumed these were her mother’s rationalizations for a life that had been thrust on her, justification for her lack of ambition. Sheryl Sandberg would not have approved.

Then, after all those defiant years, her own world inverted on its head. She was home, with no domestic help, no office to go to, and a demanding family made up of six living beings, two of whom were desperately ill. Life became an unending cycle of dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning, ensuring supplies, waking early morning to feed the dogs, walking them by herself late at night, dishes, laundry, cooking, cleaning…

There was the occasional outburst, a once-in-a-while snapping of patience. But on the whole, her mind teetered on the edge of the irritability precipice, aware of how easily it could topple over into negativity, holding on to the firmer land of awareness as if it was her saviour. The word ‘sacrifice’ loomed menacingly; it became the Kurukshetra of an internal Mahabharat she fought with herself every moment. She did not like the word; it had all the trappings of a victimized existence. She would not succumb.

In a weak moment, though, she slipped into the garb of victimhood, of ‘sacrifice’. Her mother was wrong. Who valued her work? Who would remember her labours in the home? Who cared if she wiped the kitchen counter clean? This was not a career; this was a dead end. There was no value in this. She’d rather be reading a book; writing on her blog; reporting a new, exciting trend; interviewing someone famous; running a magazine.

Then, suddenly, lying in bed one night just before sleep took over, she spoke out loud to the husband: “The dogs don’t know how much effort it is for me to wake up each morning, cook their food, feed them and wash their dishes. They don’t know; it is not their nature to know. They will eat if I feed them, but they will not thank me for it; they will go hungry if I don’t, but they will not blame me for it. They will pee in the park if I take them out; they will pee in the home if I don’t. They are in a state of acceptance, of doing what they have to. There is no sense of right or wrong, of responsibility or obligation. That is all only in human heads.”

And then it hit her. “I am not making this effort because they want me to. I am doing it because I want to. I don’t want hungry, unhealthy dogs. I don’t want dog poop in the home. They do what they must. I do what I must.”

The realization shed a new light on everything else — the family, the housework, the chores, the labour — turning the word sacrifice into a shameful shadow of itself. It wasn’t even about choice, or making a career out of being a homemaker, or any of those glamorous debates. It was simply about doing what she must. In sunlight, we wear sunglasses. At night, we turn on the lights. When it rains, we look about for an umbrella. Circumstances change and we adapt. There is nothing to sacrifice, nothing to choose, there’s no option but to do what we must.

After her soul’s light had thus been switched on, she sneezed. And suddenly, she had an urge to give gratitude for all her failings and problems. Her allergies, she suspected, ensured she was slightly more immune to the viral fevers going around, and was available for being everyone’s primary caregiver. Her work-from-home position ensured she didn’t have to be torn between office and family. Her childhood watching a hard-working mother ensured she was able to rough it out with the same stoicism. The hours of manual labour ensured she had enough time to introspect about life; about questions of identity and choice; about the pull and push of love and family. Everything had its part. Nothing was random, superfluous, a quirk of chance.

Her mother’s assertions came back to her, and this time she was less quick to judge. We play our parts, our cards. When life deals us a home, we run it; when destiny decrees us a passion, we follow it. Sometimes, we have the luxury of making a choice but, mostly, our choices are already made for us. Our happiness lies in our acceptance of who we are; our freedom lies in going with the flow.

She could already see God in the dishes. It didn’t feel like a chore any more.

Finding God

The presence of love

I’ve been working from home the past couple of weeks, managing a magazine from 2,160 km away (thank God for technology). Instead of a stuffy, airless cubicle, I now look out at an expansive manicured garden as I work from my younger one’s bedroom (and it’s grinning lush green in the rain today). Instead of fixed timings of signing in and lunch hour, I work, eat, read, write and rest at my own sweet pace. Instead of giving housekeeping or parenting orders in a frustrated voice over the phone, and then coming home to disappointment that none have been carried out, I never lose my temper at all. It’s all real-time here. I am no longer living two lives — one at the office, the other at home. Work-life is rolled into one big bundle I’d call peace.

In the mornings, everyone’s away and the new domestic help gets busy watching Hindi soaps on TV. The house is quiet. I have no one to tell me what to do, I must self-motivate. In all this new work-life routine, an unexpected relationship has taken center-stage — my two dogs have become closer to me than ever.

They sit on both sides of my mat when I do yoga, until I shoo them away — and then they come back and sit a few inches further in compromise. They sleep at my feet when I work in the bedroom, and move with me when I shift to the dining table. I cannot scrape my chair for hurting them, or move my feet about too much; I must stir gently, carefully. Even if they are snoring away, they immediately sense when I tiptoe out of the room to take a shower, and are sitting outside the bathroom door when I come out squeaky clean. At lunchtime, they are my face-gazers, especially Ronnie who is always up for a bite. When I lie down on the sofa to read a book, they align themselves alongside, tilting up their chins so that I can stroke them before they settle back down to sleep. Never do their eyes leave me.

I am not more loving than I was before. I hug them and cuddle them about the same. I scold and cajole and tease them just as I used to. But my sheer presence has endeared them to me (and me to them) in a way that absence can only aspire to. Something’s new. They have become addicted to me, my love. They cannot resist sticking close if I am around. And as the days go by, I am becoming addicted too.

It’s not just the dogs, of course. I am suddenly closer to the kids after years of being an office-going mom. I am suddenly the wife-waiting-back-home after years of being a busy girlfriend. There’s a whole lot of equations being altered, a whole lot of priorities shifting across space and time zones, new kinds of love addictions going on. I am glad I have the silence and ease to absorb it all, to allow it to grow on me instead of being forced into it.

Things change, and they change you. And then you change things because you can’t imagine it being any other way. Then one day, you work for a few hours on the computer and then look down at your feet and see two content big goofy dogs sleeping there with their paws spread out in front, and you realise that no matter how much you do or achieve or transform or desire, it’s really always about just one thing.

Love.

Everything else is either just an expression of it, or a distraction.